Rejected asylum seekers turn to churches

Rejected asylum seekers risk being drawn into crime Keystone

Asylum seekers whose applications have been turned down are increasingly turning to the Church for help.

This content was published on February 9, 2005 - 21:07

The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches says more than 100 requests for help have been received since the government took away the entitlement to welfare benefits in April 2004.

Its findings are based on a survey carried out among churches in 12 cantons late last year to assess the impact of the new ruling.

Confirming a report in the mass-circulation Blick on Wednesday, the Federation’s Markus Sahli said the situation was particularly bad in the cities with large numbers of immigrants, such as Geneva and Lausanne.

Churches were mainly being asked for food and shelter, but also for money and legal assistance, he said.

The Swiss Catholic Bishops’ Conference said it had recorded an increase in requests for help from rejected asylum seekers in canton Basel.

Tip of the iceberg

Sahli said many cantons were unable to put a figure on the number of requests they had dealt with. But cantons Vaud, Neuchâtel, Lucerne and Graubunden had recorded a total of 120 requests for assistance since April.

He described this figure as being “probably just the tip of the iceberg” and said many more requests for help could be expected over the winter months.

The largest number of calls for assistance came from Africans and east Europeans. Sahli explained that because there were relatively few people from these countries in Switzerland, there was no community to provide help to those in need.

The Catholic and Protestant churches agree that the lack of welfare provision to rejected asylum seekers is forcing many into crime and prostitution.

Sahli questioned the decision to withhold welfare benefits, saying this infringed the basic human rights enshrined in the constitution. And he said he was concerned at the “tendency” to allow rejected asylum seekers to go underground.

He added that the churches had an obligation to help those in need, even if that meant coming into conflict with the state authorities.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

In 2004, there were 14,248 applications for asylum in Switzerland, 32.3% less than in 2003.
Asylum was granted to 1,555 people.
A further 10,080 had their applications rejected.

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In brief

Since April 2004, rejected asylum seekers have no longer been eligible for welfare benefits.

The authorities expect those whose applications have been rejected to leave the country as quickly as possible and by their own means.

Those in need can request emergency help from the canton in which they are living.

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